Today, I’d like to address a very harmful and expensive trend in the HVACR industry I’ve observed the entire time I’ve been a part of it, which is close to 20 years by now. My hope is that this article will find its way into the hands of many installers, technicians, and salespeople who are not only the driving force behind our industry, but the only people who are in the position to solve this dilemma. The problem that I am writing about today is the incessant and needless turnover that HVACR contracting companies experience this time of year, every single year.
Anyone who’s been around for at least one summer has seen it, and it looks like this:
Employee has been working for contractor X for some time. Contractor Y knows that June, July, and August are the company’s most profitable months. Contractor Y wants to capitalize on that any way possible, so he offers employee of contractor X a pay increase (usually a nominal one) at the onset of summer. Employee leaves contractor X when he is needed most, and goes to work for contractor Y. Contractor Y lays off or altogether terminates the employee as soon as the summer rush is over and things slow down. The employee then either attempts to re-secure his or her old job or finds another one, resulting in a resume that looks like the employee was in a race to see how many places he or she could work in 10 years.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with several HVACR firms — some wildly successful and others just as unsuccessful — and this unfortunate pattern is consistent across the board — it affects companies of all types and sizes.
My message to workers: Stop and think before you change jobs for what appears to be a better opportunity. The grass is rarely greener on the other side.
Before you jump ship, ask yourself the following questions:
What do you really know about the company that is offering you more money? Do they offer consistent work? Will they make sure you are retained and taken care of during the offseason? Are they in good financial shape and poised for profitable growth? Will they offer you the same benefits package your current company offers?
Are you really prepared to start over? Starting over can include a lot of things you might not expect. If you’ve been with your current company for any time at all, you’ve probably become known and respected for the things you’re good at. For example, maybe you’re the best 90 percent-plus installer, the most knowledgeable hydronics technician, or the most consistent closer on the sales team. Do you really want to reprove these things somewhere else? You might be thinking your skillset is deserving of immediate respect wherever you go next, and you’re probably right, but things rarely, if ever, work out that way. Instead, you’ll be coming into an environment where your coworkers will be sizing you up and will not want to be overshadowed by the new person. You may even find yourself having to constantly put your resume in front of your new boss. Worse than all of that, you’ll be the low person on the totem pole. This means different things at different places, but I’m sure we can all generally agree that it’s no fun.
Are you financially prepared to be without a job if this doesn’t work out? Unless you’re being offered an employment contract, which is rare in our industry, you cannot be sure you’ll have a job when the busy season is over, no matter what your prospective employer tells you now. You don’t have to talk to too many people in the industry to hear stories that entail broken promises and families experiencing severe financial strain as a result.
If you happen to find yourself without a job in the near future, will the company you left be willing to take you back? Even if they are, will you be prepared for what it feels like to have to ask?
What is the wait period for health insurance and will you be able to afford Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance or a new plan on the exchange in the meantime? What is the wait period to be able to take advantage of the company’s 401(k) match? What is the vesting period for profit sharing? Some or all of these questions may apply depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going, but all of them come with measurable costs. Know what these costs are and how any offered pay increase may be offset by these factors.
Needless summertime turnover comes at a great cost to the industry. It breaks down trust and loyalty between employers and employees, damages the career of the employee changing jobs, and is extremely expensive. I’m not suggesting that if you find a better opportunity you shouldn’t take it; I’m suggesting you take the necessary time to understand whether the new opportunity is truly better or if it’s merely a short-term package to get the hiring company over the summer hump. Chances are, there are many things at your current company that make it a great place to work and for which you have not given it the proper amount of credit. Be sure to account for each and every one of these before you act; this just might help you avoid making a poor decision.
A BID IS NOT A BARGAINING CHIP
One final piece of advice: If another company offers you more money, but you would rather stay where you are, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to use that offer as leverage to squeeze your current employer to meet or beat that number at the onset of the busy season. This will have one of two possible effects, and both of them are bad for you.
The first: Your employer will call your bluff, which most sophisticated companies are now doing as they’ve figured out that if they allow you to squeeze them, they are opening the door for everyone else to do it, too. The second: They grant you a matching pay increase under duress. This pay increase may be temporary, or it may be permanent, but, either way, the relationship will be damaged and scarred because your employer will have felt you put him over the barrel when you were needed most.
Instead, if you feel like you’re not receiving your due, or are in any other way undervalued by your current employer, ask to have a conversation with your supervisor when he or she is not under the gun. Then, at that time, respectfully make your case. When you do make your case, make sure you are dealing in facts. When you deal in facts and not emotion, you’ll be surprised how flexible your employer will be. I’ve yet to meet an employee who was fired for working too hard or delivering too much profit to his or her employer. Your employer is in business to make money, and if you can build the case that he or she will be able to continue to do so after granting you a pay increase you’ve truly earned, you’ll almost always find a sympathetic audience. Just make sure you do it at the right time, not when your employer’s back is against the wall.
In summary, sometimes in life you “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” Don’t make that mistake.
Publication date: 7/13/2015